You know that thing where you hear a word or a phrase or an idea seemingly out of left field and suddenly you’re hearing it everywhere? Here’s mine: people eating dog food.
And no, I’m not referring to the sad, almost clichéd, tragic elderly-ladies-and-others-on-welfare-eating-food-designed-for-animals-because-it’s-cheap (though I think that’s pretty much cat food, if clichéd memory serves) but rather humans choosing to eat dog food – because they like it.
Now just because this is new to me phenomenon-wise doesn’t mean I’ve never heard of such a thing. My brother was renowned in our family for trying every type of dog food, wet or dry, treat or medicinal, that came through the door.
Pedigree Chum, Gravy Train, Milk Bones, liver snaps, Gaines Burgers (remember those?) Alpo – everything. He drew the line at rubber bones and chew toys, but other than artificial dog toy stuff, he was pretty much open to everything dog diet related. But that was more than twenty years ago, and like every little brother, mine was a certifiable creepy nut.
(I myself ate a few Good Boy Choc Drops – licked one, then scarfed the rest truth be told – but only because they actually tasted like chocolate; like large, slightly dry Hershey’s Kisses. One hopes they weren’t actually made of chocolate, but even if they were, no matter: I had saved our pets from toxic chocolate poisoning through pure greed. I’d like to tell you I was prescient, but really, it was nothing more than gluttony.)
Anyway, years go by and this week my book of choice is Augusten Burroughs’s autobiographical ‘Running With Scissors’, (hilarious and horrific, just like the jacket copy promises) and I come across a passage where Burroughs is shamed into joining his weird surrogate family in snacking on Purina Dog Chow.
“It was surprisingly tasty,” he reports. “Nutty, slightly sweet with a satisfying crunch.”
Then, apropos of nothing (it’s that out of the blue phenomenon working again) someone mentioned to me their habit of gorging on Kibbles ’n Bits back in their college days. The perfect dorm snack that no one else would steal out of the communal kitchen – but that was just the upside; the real purpose of the purchase was because he LIKED it. Kibbles ‘n Bits.
And I am left sitting here wondering if my brother Chris wasn’t messing with me all those years ago about how “delicious, yummy – come on, you’ve got to try some” the food destined for Charlie, Pip, Sadie and Chloe was. Maybe he was purposely using reverse psychology: he may have been ten, but he was a smart little creepy nut.
Maybe the big secret was that all that tinned gourmet dog food and delectably crispy, crunchy kibble really IS tasty. Maybe he was trying to keep it all for himself. Or, more likely, attempting to maintain his title as weirdest Wilson. No mean feat…
So yesterday I’m at the pet store picking up a little homeopathic arthritis remedy for the dog. (And a little was all it was – it cost a fortune for a tiny bottle; but do I want to sleep through the night unaccompanied by yips and twitches? I do. The cost of uninterrupted slumber? $27 plus tax. But as they say in the credit card ads, the end to sleep deprivation? Priceless.)
I take a lot of stick from people who think I spoil my dog. The truth is, she’s kind of exceptionally cute and small and purse-puppy-ish. They think I treat her like a tiny human, but the fact is, she’s just good value personality-wise. I like hanging around with her and playing with her and even though I put coats on her in the wet and in the winter, I don’t dress her up, or stick little hats on her, or buy her exceptionally pricey toys or treats. Honestly, I treat her like a dog. So I’m a little nonplussed by all this gourmet dog crap.
So there I am, lined up at the till, looking at all the impulse purchases dotted around the counter, more now that the holiday season is here, and trying hard not to get sucked in by the plush reindeer antlers, and tinselly collars with jingle bells, and Santa caps of all sizes – with ear-holes and without – that cost a little too much to be believed, but are just cheap enough to make you waver. And I finally succumb to a small packet of Christmas cookies – in gingerbread man, Christmas tree and wreath shapes. They’re adorable. And the dog demonstrably has a chronic pain disorder and they’re only $1.50. They’re really too pretty to waste on a creature who will lick things off the bottom of my boot, but after all, it’s Christmas and so on and so forth.
Waiting to pay, I take a sniff of the biscuits and am surprised to discover they don’t smell musty or meaty, but cinnamony and spicy and altogether exactly like real gingerbread cookies.
“’Scuse me,” I say to the harried woman behind the counter. (If this shop is any indication, dogs will be having a breakout Christmas this year. Makes you feel a little sad for the Jewish and Muslim pets; though G-d knows, I wouldn’t doubt there are plenty of kosher and halal treats available to the dedicated dog fancier.) “But are these for people or dogs?
“I just wondered,” I continued, “because they smell absolutely delicious.”
“Both,” she mumbles, trying to get the overloaded Interac machine to accept my bruised and wilting card. “People are always trying their dog’s food, so we’ve started making the treats animal and human-friendly. We’re selling loads.”
I’m not surprised. I simply would not be able to tell the difference. By smell that is; you can fool me, but you couldn’t make me eat something displayed at muzzle level, next to the rubber squeak toys and the desiccated liver chunks and hard and greasy pig’s ears.
It would appear however that I am on my own. All over the internet, and hung and stacked throughout pet stores and specialty dog-bakeries throughout the GTA, are human-friendly pet snacks. Not surprisingly, there are even a few high end outlets that sell (and sell well) a whole line of candy treats for man and beast.
“At last, a snack people can share with dogs – and vice versa!” goes the slogan for the snooty online gourmet treat merchant that sells all manner of delectable dog treats:
Dog/People Truffles: 25 for $25; Lickety Splits Dog/People Carob Sticks: 12 for $12; Turtle Dog/People Treats: 4 for $15; and Woofy Pop Popcorn for people and their pets: 3 microwavable packs for $8.
I won’t bother commenting, I’ll just let you do the math.
So we get home and I remove her faux Burberry overcoat, unbuckle her red collar with the initials ‘LW’ outlined in diamante, and measure out a dose of the arthritis-relief medicine. I take a sniff – fascinated now to see if pet remedies also come in dog-friendly flavours – and gag at the viscous brown liquid that smells like a cross between rotten eggs and dog poo. If I could manage it, I’d pinch her nose for her, but I just pry open the gaping maw and squirt the stuff in.
She seems okay, she licks her lips and looks up brightly, clearly hoping for more. Good dog! Truly, the stuff was shudder-worthy, so I tear open the packet of Christmas dog biscuits and offer her a small wreath to snack on before dinner.
She takes it gingerly, as if it was a favour to me and stands there sort of sucking on it ruminatively, before dropping it on the floor. She gives it one desultory lick, before turning around and trotting off into the bedroom, toenails clicking happily on the smooth parquet.
I pick up the biscuit and give it another sniff. Cinnamon and ginger spice. Very nice, very Christmassy. Still a dog biscuit.
Later, I go to join her in the bedroom, but I can’t find her; she’s in none of the usual places – sprawled on the chaise, curled up on a pillow on the bed. I check the bathroom, under the desk, then I spy her in the back of the closet.
She’s licking the bottom of my boot.